The US government Tuesday approved an anti-piracy mechanism that
will make it harder for computer users to illegally distribute
digital TV programs on the Internet. The goal is to speed the
transition to higher quality digital broadcasts and ensure such
programming remains free.
Broadcasters and the movie industry had urged the Federal
Communications Commission to take such action, while consumer
groups said it will force some people to purchase new
Some people already share TV shows and movies online, though the
practice is limited by the speed of Internet connections — it can
take many hours to transfer high-quality copies.
But as Internet connections get faster and broadcasters switch to
much clearer digital television, the movie and television
industries fear consumers will put high-quality copies of shows
and films on the Web that others can download for free. This
would reduce the broadcasters' ability to sell the shows for
syndication or overseas.
The music industry saw CD sales fall as free music sharing
proliferated on the Internet. It has started to sue listeners who
illegally distribute songs online.
The five-member FCC voted unanimously to allow a "broadcast flag"
to be added to digital programming to block broader distribution
on the Internet, though the two Democrats on the panel expressed
some reservations. Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell called
it "an important step toward preserving the viability of free
In its order, the FCC told makers of digital television receivers
that by July 1, 2005, their models must recognize the flag, an
electronic signal that broadcasters can embed in their programs.
The commission said the order applies only to electronics
equipment that can receive digital broadcast signals, not digital
VCRs, DVD players and personal computers without digital tuners.
Congress already has told the TV industry to switch their
broadcasts by 2007 to a digital format, which uses computer
language, from the current analog format, which uses radio
signals sent as waves. After the switch over, consumers who don't
subscribe to a cable or satellite service would need digital
tuners, either inside a TV or in a set-top box.
FCC officials said the flag would not prevent consumers from
using existing or new DVD or VCR machines to make copies of TV
programs. But the signal is designed to make it more difficult
for consumers to then transfer those copies to the Internet and
make them available to potentially millions of others free of